First Bartol, Then Papazian, Soon History

Papazian Hall entrance, 2009

Papazian Hall entrance, 2009

After many years of planning, work will begin this summer on development of Swarthmore College’s Biology, Engineering, and Psychology (BEP) building on the north end of campus. Early in the process of site development, Papazian Hall will be taken down, and the Psychology and Philosophy departments removed to other buildings including just-completed Whittier Hall, across Whitter Place from Papazian. Hicks Hall — main locus of the College’s Engineering Department (though some engineering shops and equipment were at Papazian) — will remain intact for the next two years, then it too will be razed. In this issue, we look at the history of Papazian; in a future issue of the Swarthmorean, we will look at Hicks.

The foundation of the building now known as Papazian Hall was laid when Philadelphian Henry Welchman Bartol bequeathed approximately $2 million to the Franklin Institute, for the establishment of the Bartol Research Foundation in the Physical Sciences. The Foundation was to investigate the basic particles and forces that comprise all matter, but the Franklin Institute had no room at its Philadelphia facility for such work.

The Franklin Institute reached an agreement in 1927 with Swarthmore College’s Board of Managers to construct a research building housing this initiative on the College’s campus, at the Institute’s expense. The agreement stipulated that, after fifty years, the Bartol Foundation would give the building to the college, but left open the possibility of 25-year renewals thereafter. Industrial architect John Torrey Windrim, who had designed the Franklin Institute (and the Swarthmore Telephone Exchange at 215 Harvard Avenue), designed the two-story Bartol building with an austerely classical entrance façade, and its construction on Whittier Place was completed in 1929.

The Bartol Foundation had no connection with the college, but it was thought that their presence would add to the scientific atmosphere there. Frank Aydelotte, college president and legendary champion of liberal education, envisioned a partnership between researchers and educators now typical of many of the nation’s top undergraduate science programs, involving students and their professors in acquiring learning through laboratory research as well as classroom theory.

In its early heyday, the Bartol employed about fifteen Fellows in Advanced Research. From the football field, the Bartol launched hydrogen balloons carrying cosmic ray detectors, and in 1935 the Bartol built a device to measure cosmic rays. That instrument was carried on a manned balloon that reached a then-record breaking altitude. A 70-ton cyclotron, built jointly by the Bartol and the Biochemical Research Foundation of the Franklin Institute, was installed in the sub-basement in 1937, and it was at that time only the eighth such device in the country. Some early research had been done into treatments for cancer, but the facility’s purpose was put into sharper focus and its name was changed to The Bartol Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Because of the Bartol’s scientific prominence, the Swarthmore campus building was staffed by top physicists from around the world. During the Second World War, several countries were attempting to develop nuclear weapons, and The Bartol Institute for Nuclear Physics at Swarthmore College conducted experiments in support of the Manhattan Project.

One persistent problem was that a number of foreign nationals were conducting this classified research, and their intents and loyalties were suspect during the political climate of World War II and its aftermath. Some feared that Bartol was infested with enemy spies, but even though various federal agencies and the Swarthmore Police Department kept track of the suspects’ sometimes-mysterious activities, no wrong-doing was ever proven.

Also of concern during WWII were the various Swarthmore College students supporting communism, as the United States and the Soviet Union then were allies, but not friends. These students were watched by The Committee Investigating Un-American Activities in American Colleges & Universities. The pre-McCarthy era Committee consisted of three students, one of whom was Paul Papazian. Paul graduated from Swarthmore College in 1943, and perhaps because of wartime prejudices, he changed his last name to Restall, which was his mother’s maiden name. (Paul later began his career as a local builder, and had offices in the Restall Building on Baltimore Pike in Media.)

It may have been the mission shift to nuclear research that doomed the relationship between the college and Bartol, as Claude Smith, an influential college Board of Managers member of 47 years, steadfastly opposed Bartol’s construction of new nuclear research facilities on campus. Others suggest that the permanent connection between Bartol, with its commitment to research, and Swarthmore and its educational mandate proved too difficult to sustain in the socially and academically turbulent 1960s and 1970s, when the conception of the mission of the college was very fluid. In any case, the Board of Managers decided in October 1971 not to renew Bartol’s lease.

In 1977, at the end of the 50-year agreement, the Bartol moved to the University of Delaware, where it remains. The building here became the property of Swarthmore College. Restall (née Papazian) and his wife donated money for renovating the Bartol building, and asked that it be renamed for his father, Hapet Papazian, who had been vice president for international affairs at General Electric Company. Over the last several decades, the college’s Papazian Hall housed Engineering laboratories, and the departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology.

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